BEIRUT: Lebanon was left reeling Sunday without the slightest prospect of ending multiple crises, after its premier-designate stepped down following the failure of talks to form a government, despite international pressure.
Mustapha Adib’s resignation on Saturday ended efforts to hammer out a reformist government in the wake of a colossal Aug 4 explosion in Beirut that killed 190 people, injured thousands and ravaged large parts of the capital.
Political parties had pledged in early September, during a visit to Lebanon by French President Emmanuel Macron, to form within two weeks a cabinet of independent ministers tasked with ending the country’s economic malaise.
“As the efforts to form a government reached their final phase, it became apparent to me that this consensus … was no longer there,” Adib said on Saturday.
Under the Lebanese constitution, the president must now hold further talks to nominate another prime minister to form a government, but it is a process that risks dragging out and even failing.
“I don’t expect a government anytime soon,” said Sami Atallah, who heads the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies.
“There was a chance, there was a lot of pressure to form a government and it didn’t happen,” he said, adding there was a “bigger problem” of geopolitical tensions, especially between the US and Iran.
‘Into the unknown’
Adib’s efforts were hampered by the claims of two Shiite formations, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, and its ally Amal, led by parliament speaker Nabih Berri, who demanded the finance portfolio.
According to observers, the Shiite allies dug in their heels after recent US sanctions were imposed on a minister of the Amal party and two companies affiliated with Hezbollah.
Adib’s decision to step aside 26 days after his appointment has left the people of Lebanon feeling as though they are back to square one.
“The page of Mustapha Adib has turned,” the French-language L’Orient-Le Jour newspaper declared on Sunday.
It described the return to the drawing board as “a leap into the unknown, even a highway to hell”.
Earlier this week, Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned the country was headed to “hell” without a new cabinet.
The Arabic-language newspaper Annahar warned of “grave repercussions”, and said all eyes were on Macron, who is due to hold a news conference on Sunday evening.
The UN envoy to Lebanon, Jan Kubis, on Saturday reacted with disbelief: “Such a degree of irresponsibility when the fate of Lebanon and its people is at stake!”
“Politicians, have you really scuppered this unique chance created by France?”
Even before the devastating Beirut port blast, the country was already mired in its worst economic crisis in decades, and its entrenched political class was dealing with widespread popular discontent.
‘Lame duck’ caretaker government
After the country for the first time defaulted on its sovereign debt in March, it launched talks with the International Monetary Fund towards lifting the country out of crisis, but those discussions soon stalled.
Now, with no new cabinet expected any time soon, analyst Maha Yahya said the country was left with a “lame duck” caretaker government.
“Institutions working with it cannot take any decisions and certainly cannot negotiate with the IMF on an economic recovery plan,” said the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center.
Many are worried the country is headed from bad to worse, with daily novel coronavirus infection figures on the rise and increasing security incidents reported in recent weeks.
On Saturday night, an attack on an army post in north Lebanon killed two soldiers and an alleged “terrorist”.
Police killed nine alleged Islamic State group-linked suspects in a manhunt over a murder last month, a security source said Sunday.
Analyst Karim Bitar said Lebanon was expected to go through a rough patch ahead.
“Even if Lebanon is not hell-bound, we will probably witness … the weakening of public institutions, a worsening of the economic crisis … and a wave of emigration,” he said.